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Joyful Music is Powerful Heart Medicine, Researchers Find

Sunday, November 23, 2008 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: music therapy, health news, Natural News

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(NewsTarget) Here's a totally natural, non-drug, side-effect-free way you can improve your heart health – listen to joyful music. That's not just some pie-in-the-sky platitude, it's the conclusion of a study just presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions meeting in New Orleans. Scientists have shown for the first time that emotions aroused by joyful music have a healthy effect on blood vessel function. Laughter and relaxation help too, but music appears to be the strongest "medicine".

The University of Maryland School of Medicine research team used music selected by study participants who said the tunes filled them with a sense of joy. Studies showed that when they listened to these songs, tissue in the inner lining of their blood vessels dilated, increasing blood flow. However, when research subjects listened to music they felt was stressful, their blood vessels narrowed. That produced a potentially unhealthy response because it restricted blood flow.

"We had previously demonstrated that positive emotions, such as laughter, were good for vascular health. So, a logical question was whether other emotions, such as those evoked by music, have a similar effect," says principal investigator Michael Miller, M.D., director of preventive cardiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in a prepared statement for the press. "We knew that individual people would react differently to different types of music, so in this study, we enabled participants to select music based upon their likes and dislikes."

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health ( NIH), the American Heart Association and the Veterans Administration , involved 10 healthy, non-smoking volunteers who participated in four phases of the randomized study. In one, volunteers listened to music they selected that filled them with a sense of joy – and most of these selections were country music songs. Another phase included listening to music that the study participants said made them feel stressed, primarily "heavy metal" selections. In a third part of the study, audio tapes to promote relaxation were played and in a fourth phase participants were shown videotapes designed to make them laugh.

Before each phase of the study, the research participants fasted overnight and were given a baseline test called flow-mediated dilation to determine how the lining of blood vessels in their bodies responded to a wide range of stimuli. Known as the endothelium, the lining of blood vessels has a powerful effect on health, especially the development of cardiovascular disease, because it regulates blood flow and adjusts blood thickening and coagulation. In addition, it releases substances in response to wounds, infections or irritation.

After the baseline test, each research subject was exposed to either a music selection or funny video for 30 minutes. Additional dilation measurements were taken throughout each phase to check for changes from baseline. The volunteers returned a minimum of one week later for the next phase and the process was repeated until all parts of the study were completed.

There results showed that compared to baseline, during the laughter phase of the study there was a 19 percent increase in blood vessel dilation and the relaxation phase increased dilation by 11 percent. But the music parts of the study were even more significant – there was a 26 percent increase in blood vessel dilation after the joyful music phase. On the other hand, listing to music that caused anxious feelings narrowed blood vessels by six percent.

"I was impressed with the highly significant differences both before and after listening to joyful music as well as between joyful and anxious music," Dr. Miller said in his media statement. "The active listening to music evokes such raw positive emotions likely in part due to the release of endorphins, part of that mind-heart connection that we yearn to learn so much more about. Needless to say, these results were music to my ears because they signal another preventive strategy that we may incorporate in our daily lives to promote heart health."

About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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